Author(s): Gregory Cade. Published on July 1, 2016.

Code Solution

The Federal government looks to NFPA for expertise on energy storage systems

BY GREGORY B. CADE

As the Obama Administration continues its efforts to combat climate change and reduce energy consumption in the United States, it’s calling on NFPA to provide assistance.

Stationary energy storage systems (ESS) are one of the latest examples of new energy-saving technologies embraced by local, state, and federal governments. ESS can increase energy efficiencies by storing renewable energy for use when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, or through peak shaving—storing energy when demand and prices are low for use when energy is in demand and expensive. ESS is also useful to utilities, which can use stored energy to supplement power during times of peak demand without having to build new power plants. Governments and private industry are helping consumers embrace these new energy systems through tax breaks and grant programs, and there is heightened interest in expanding the commercial and residential uses of ESS. All of this creates a need for better codes and standards to ensure ESS safety.

As the alternative energy business rapidly evolves, the code process is not so nimble. In April, the White House Council on Environmental Quality contacted NFPA to talk about the association’s efforts on ESS and when a newly proposed NFPA document on battery systems will be available for use. NFPA staff held a conference call with members of the council to provide details about NFPA’s standards development process and to discuss the work that has already been done. We had a lot to tell them. At the moment, the National Electrical Code® (NEC®); NFPA 111, Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems; and other NFPA standards include provisions that address parts of these new battery systems, but an overarching code that specifically addresses all of the challenges with these evolving systems is absent.

NFPA recognized the potential gaps in existing documents and earlier this year sent out a request to gauge the support of interested parties in developing a new standard specifically addressing ESS. At its April meeting, the NFPA Standards Council approved a request to develop NFPA 855, Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, a new ESS standard that addresses the design, construction, installation, and commissioning of stationary energy storage systems. NFPA staff will provide input on a proposed start-up roster for the associated new technical committee and committee scope, which will be reviewed and presented for action at the council’s August meeting. The technical committee will then develop the standard’s official scope and present it to the Standards Council for approval, and release it for public review and submission of public inputs in the months to follow.

As this work continues, states where ESS is becoming more prevalent, such as New York, have begun to adopt their own guidelines and regulations. NFPA will consider those local initiatives and provide input so the association’s future documents are aligned with these local regulations. In the meantime, NFPA documents will continue to address the issue, including a proposed new chapter on ESS in the 2017 NEC.

With these efforts, NFPA has demonstrated again that, with support from its members and staff, we continue to be on the leading edge of the changes that affect global safety, which is why our expertise is sought so often by the highest reaches of government.

GREGORY B. CADE is division director of government affairs for NFPA. Top Photograph: Energy Storage Association.